How does MS impact cognition?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the Central Nervous System (CNS) which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms and effects of the condition can vary widely between individuals. It tends to be an unpredictable disease, and the effects stemming from it can either be temporary or long-lasting. Effects of MS may include physical symptoms as well as cognitive symptoms. Individuals with MS commonly experience physical symptoms including fatigue, balance difficulties, dizziness, numbness, and weakness. They may also experience cognitive changes such as impairment in attention, memory, visual-spatial skills, and verbal fluency (recalling words). In this article, we’ll explore how MS impacts cognition.
MS and cognition
According to research, the severity of cognitive symptoms may depend on life factors such as age and anxiety level. Physician David E. Freedman, MD, of the University of Toronto, and his colleagues studied over 800 adult patients with MS from 2006 to 2022.
They found that age is a factor in cognitive impairment. Older patients (over age 50) were more likely to have cognitive impairment than patients under age 50. Older adults in the study performed worse on cognitive tests assessing memory, processing speed and executive function when compared with the younger adult participants.
The role of mental health
Freedman’s research also found anxiety and depression to be factors in determining the cognitive symptoms of MS. Patients who experience depression and/or anxiety tended to experience greater cognitive impairment. Freedman notes that further research is needed to fully understand whether treating depressive symptoms can help to treat cognitive impairment in these cases.
Clinicians who are working with patients who have MS should consider the patient’s mental health when assessing the patient’s cognition or doing cognitive therapy.
Treating MS-related cognitive impairment
Early assessment and treatment of cognitive impairment in individuals with MS is important. Changes in cognition can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. For example, individuals may fall behind at work or school, their cognitive impairment may affect their relationships with loved ones, or they may have trouble caring for themselves and their home.
Cognitive remediation with HappyNeuron Pro exercises are one way to treat patients who are experiencing cognitive impairment due to MS. The digital cognitive exercises can help patients work out cognitive skills such as memory, language, and executive functions. This may help them to retain or improve cognitive skills.
Additionally, there are methods that can help patients make up for cognitive deficits, such as making to-do lists so tasks aren’t forgotten, keeping a calendar, and eliminating distractions when possible.
MS can be an unpredictable illness affecting individuals’ central nervous systems. The effects can vary widely from person to person, impacting both body and brain. However, research into MS treatment has been advancing, including ways to treat cognitive impairments that sometimes stem from the condition.
We always have our eye on advancements within the neuroscience field and will continue to write about them on our blog.